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Benzema talks Ballon d’Or win, Ancelotti, Mourinho, Zidane, and Santiago Bernabeu

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Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

Karim Benzema made history by becoming the first French player since Zinedine Zidane to win the Ballon d’Or award.

As is the custom, France Football conducted a long interview with the Real Madrid forward, who talks about his early life successes, his journey into superstardom, and how club football played a key role in his rapid rise to prominence, among other things.

Here are some of the key points from his long interview with France Football (h/t AS).

On how he felt winning the Ballon d’Or: “Joy, pride, there are many memories, many topics that come to mind. There is no more beautiful individual prize in all sports. First of all, the name: Ballon d’Or. It’s something different, magnificent, all gold, the height of beauty. And it can’t be bought. It’s mine and I went to get it myself. It’s crazy.”

On his obsession with the trophy: “Destiny was written. It’s about my life, my career, and my story. I can’t see myself giving up playing football without it. I had to win it, but it wasn’t an obsession or something in my head that drove me crazy. I had to get close, I had to get close again. I had to catch it. You have the Ballon d’Or, you have made history in this sport. And I play football to leave something behind, even if it’s an action or an emotion.”

On who he talked about Ballon d’Or: “With my mother. It was her dream. She always told me: ‘You are the best, you will win it’. She was special, she was convinced, persuaded. They weren’t long discussions, but she had time to say a few words to me. When I was preparing for a new season, when I was talking with my parents, my brother, my mother told me: ‘I hope you continue to have the Ballon d’Or in your head.'”

On how Ballon d’Or feels like: “It is beyond everything. It is an individual trophy, but it is, and always will be, collective, with my teammates, of course, but also with people from outside. I share it with the people where I come from, from the neighbourhoods, my fans, and everyone. It’s my Ballon d’Or, but in reality, it’s the people’s Ballon d’Or.”

On how he feels a match with five senses: “I look at the goal of the opposition and my direct rival. I look and analyze my marker in a few seconds, where he is, his behaviour, if he is going to come hard for me, or if he is going to give me time to control, or if he is going too fast. The eyes transmit to the brain and I know it. My game starts at the moment of the kick-off.”

On what it is like to enter the Santiago Bernabeu: “It is wonderful. I can hear the fans and the adrenaline is pumping. We salute our rivals, etc. I know where my loved ones are, we look at each other, and there is a connection. I have to do it, I need it. I don’t start a game without that look.”

On where he likes to play the most: “In the scoring area, to finish the move and score, or when the ball is out, I position myself past the centre of the field, in the last thirty metres. I like to take possession of the ball there and have the whole field in front of me and the whole stadium to start the move. That’s where I watch and read the game.”

On talking to teammates with his eyes: “It depends on the player. You don’t have to talk to Modric, he communicates with his eyes. He looks at me, he knows how my body is positioned. I look at it and I know how yours is placed. And we both know what’s going to happen. 

Benzema and Modric share a telepathic understanding (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

“Against PSG (3-1 at the Bernabéu) everyone thinks of the 2-1 play that he was going to shoot, but I know he was going to make that pass. And he knows it too because I stop and back up, while he pretends he’s going to shoot. They are the eyes, the movements and the head before the feet. Among the great players, looks are enough to understand and interpret a situation.”

On whether he looks at rivals: “Always. I take a minute to observe the defenders, to see their attitude toward my movements and their behaviour. When I receive the ball, I vary my controls, and then I know where the difficulties can be. I analyze them. But there is no eye contact. It exists, but I’m not into it.”

On the opposition players try intimidating him with their eyes: “Yes, often. The truth is that it makes me laugh. It’s true and it’s even funny. You meet a defender who does things like that and then sees that it’s no use. So he taps me on the shoulder and basically says, ‘Go ahead, take it easy…’. 

“A defender might want to impress me. I tell him: ‘Look, you can hit me, but go to the ball’. Let’s play football. I’m not interested in going forward. I don’t like going in there, and I don’t want to. I have seen the aggression in the eyes of the defenders before, yes, unpleasant. But it’s nothing.”

On whether he looks at the goalkeeper as well: “I already see him before the games. I try to see where he is very good and where he is not so good. That can help.”

On what he hears on the pitch: “All. The fans, the teammates, the ball, the coaches talking… everything. I hear every sound clearly. And I’m paying attention to everything. (He points to his right ear and his head.) Everything goes in. It’s like a concert.”

On whether he listens to Carlo Ancelotti during matches: “No. It is more gestural. You already feel it when he’s not happy. He often says to me: ‘What are you doing?’ He says it in general for the whole team. We have a good connection. 

“Mourinho, he talked a lot. But they were other times, another football and with more tension. He did it by shouting, cheering, a bit of everything. It can be pleasant or unpleasant. But he is still one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. When Zizou is not happy, you hear and feel it too!”

Benzema shares a special relationship with Ancelotti and Zidane (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

On how he perceives public opinion: “It is important, it influences you. For example, you receive the ball, you miss a dribble, or a shot. If they whistle at you, it’s complicated. But if it cheers you up, what do you do? The next ball that does not enter, you try again. And the next ball you touch is the same and possibly you score.”

On how he is a football player for football lovers: “I grew up with this football of lovers and connoisseurs of football. Because that’s how I saw it. In my childhood, I grew up with FC Nantes (Le Jeu Nantaise), the one-touch game, and the fast movements. 

And then, in my neighbourhood, I grew up with older kids, six or seven years older, stronger, and faster than me. See fast, think fast, act fast.”

On whether he hears silence in the pitch: “Yes, when I’m about to take a penalty, for example. Let’s take City’s in the second leg (Champions League semi-final, 3-1). There was a lot of noise and it was in my ears. It was like being on an airplane. 

I managed to concentrate and then I started the run. There is no more noise, just a few claps, very softly. It’s the people talking or the security guard. But I didn’t hear anything.”

On hearing whistles from the stands: “Yes, at the Bernabéu, in the French team, even in Lyon, and it’s difficult. Because it is your public. They come over time and that means you haven’t done the right thing for a certain period. 

“You have to say to yourself, ‘What can I do to get out of this? Do I continue like this, lose confidence, get scared, become an ordinary player, and get whistled all the time? Or do I take over, because I know my quality, and make sure they applaud me? You have to choose. 

“There were whistles that gave me a headache. You have to try not to contaminate your head. It’s tricky, but it can also get you higher.”

On being a player who is crazy about football: “Yes I think so. Because my game is simple. If you take the panenka against City (semi-final first leg), when I talk about it with my little brother, he tells me: ‘You’re crazy! But why?’.

“Before, I missed two penalties in a single game, I shouldn’t have taken it and now we’re in the semi-finals, 4-2, and I make a panenka. It was not extravagant. For me, it was simple, so I had to do it. In the previous game, when I shot to the right, my strong side, the goalkeeper had saved two penalties. 

“Shoot right? That’s out. On the left? I don’t know. Actually, I said to myself, I’m going to do a ‘Zizou’! That’s what I had in mind. Playing football is about doing simple things that seem complicated.”

On whether the Ballon d’Or has a taste of revenge: “Revenge? No. I have been nominated for a long time (in 2008 for the first time) but, in the end, I was always too far away, although I could have been higher at times. But don’t worry, I told myself, to each his own. Last year, we didn’t win anything collectively, I finished fourth. 

“It was hard, but no need to worry. Do I have to do more? Fine, I’ll go do it. But it’s not revenge. I went to find myself, I worked alone. I stayed where I was, I kept working, I took my time. I went back to the front, and here I am. 

“It is a special Ballon d’Or, one of the most beautiful. In fact, it is history. I have come a long way. Five years ago, no one would have predicted this, no one. That is why it is exceptional, magnificent.”

On whether every ball he touches is an opportunity: “Yes. I try to make sure that it is. But it depends on how the ball arrives, how you touch it, and what happens next. The action that follows comes from the way the continuation is performed. 

“Not only is the ending important, everything counts. If your deflection from the outside is not in the path of the player you want to pass the ball to, he stops and nothing is the same. Everything is creative. The way is creative.”

On becoming a football artist: “In what I do, yes. After that, I do my own business. Everything I do, even a single pass, a single move, depends on what happens next. I grew up with the football of the artists, ‘Zizou’ and Ronaldo. Despite all the great players we have seen since then, they are on another level. Cristiano and Messi are also artists because of what they have done, you cannot do what they do.”

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Real Madrid News

Real Madrid defender set to return from injury by appearing for his national team

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Photo by EVA MANHART/APA/AFP via Getty Images

In a positive update, Real Madrid defender David Alaba is set to return from his injury by making an appearance for the Austrian national team against Estonia later tonight, confirms Sergio Quirante.

Alaba has been out of action for over a month now, after picking up an injury during Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first-leg tie against Liverpool at Anfield.

The Austrian international had been making progress in training at the club but was not ready in time for the Clasico against Barcelona on March 19.

Despite the injury, Alaba travelled to join the Austrian national team during the current international break.

And, according to the report from Sergio Quirante, the Real Madrid ace has good feelings after training with his national team. Having had several sessions under his belt now, the versatile defender is all set to make his return later tonight.

Austria will face off against Estonia in their second UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifiers Group F encounter later tonight and Alaba is in line to get some minutes against the minnows.

What remains to be seen is whether manager Ralf Rangnick opts to start the former Bayern Munich superstar on the night or introduces him as a substitute in the latter stages of the game.

Alaba’s imminent return will be good news for Real Madrid, who have a series of important matches coming up after the international break as they look to salvage their season.

Following the loss to Barcelona earlier this month, Carlo Ancelotti’s men are now 12 points off the top of the table in La Liga and are pretty much out of the equation to retain the title. They are also training the Catalans 1-0 in the Copa del Rey semi-finals while Chelsea await in the Champions League quarter-finals.

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